Sunday, June 20, 2010

Warm Potato Salad, Indian Style

Would the 16 year old you recognize who you had become? Twice that age now, I wonder.

I was a terrible cook as a teenager. I didn’t burn food or undercook. The food I cooked was terribly, obnoxiously reaching. I craved sophistication in the way that all teens do. I made tahpaas, tahgeenes, and tehrrrrrines. There was nothing inherently wrong with the recipes. It was my motivation. I had imagined myself growing up to live an urbane, well-traveled life and I cooked to prepare myself. Someday, when I was sitting beside fabulous people, late late at night in the spot in Barcelona, I didn’t want to be the one saying, Ta-what?
Someone I worked with once, a 6ft two inch blond woman with a voice like Katherine Hepburn, told me she didn’t get the jobs she wanted but ended up wanting the jobs she got. Somehow that has always resonated with me. The flow of life, the currents that keep you moving, might make you forget that you are actually making choices. You are affecting the outcome of your life with every decision. Looking back, you might think it was the big choice, this college or that. But, I am starting to believe the little choices are the big ones. That moment you decided that you would hang out late after work, and then somehow mention to someone you think that coworker is cute, and then forget about it, and then go out of town, and then your friend sets you up with that guy, and then you go on the date, and now you are married with two kids. Well, you get my drift. The life you have might not be the one that you wanted, but if you do it right, if you own it, you will end up wanting the life you have.

Those terrible dinners I cooked as a teen was the life I thought I wanted. Now I cook for my real life, for my real family--no airs with my food these days.

Warm Potato Salad, Indian Style

Cut into large cubes:
1 head of cauliflower
2-3 large roasting potatoes
1 red onion
3-4 small zucchinis
½ cup chickpeas

Toss veggies with:
1-2 T garam masala
2 t turmeric
Salt to taste
1 t ginger powder
1 t cumin
1 t red pepper
Olive oil

In a pan, roast veggies.

When veggies are warm, toss with dressing of 3 T yogurt, 2-3 handfuls cilantro leaves chopped, ½ t minced garlic, 1T wine vinegar, 1 t minced shallots. Then add thing slices of red onion and bell pepper (I used red and orange.)

This is my entry for no croutons required from Tinned Tomatoes and Lisa's Kitchen.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Vietnamese Coffee Cheesecake Bars

Vietnamese Coffee Cheesecake Bars

Vietnamese Coffee cheesecake Bars

Last year at this time, I was very hungry.

I was near the end of a difficult pregnancy. In over 8 months, there was not a single day when the nausea did not overwhelm every other feeling. Eating only meant that I would get sick. I basically lived on IVs, iron infusions, and potato chips.

My husband was in the midst of a busy season at work, so my Dad or Mom would drop me off for my two weeks of iron infusions. Since I didn’t leave the house much, I tried to make the most of this daily outing. I used to try to think of it as a Sunday drive, but with needles and weigh-ins.

In general, the experience made me very hopeful. I would sit alongside chemo patients waiting for my treatment. As it went, I was damn lucky. My body doesn’t enjoy pregnancy particularly, but I still did end up with babies. The people sitting alongside me had tumors. Really—no comparison.

Thinking about food would send me to the restroom. That is except Vietnamese iced coffee.

I would say in general I enjoy VIC quite a lot. I wouldn’t go so far as to use the term love. For hot chai, I might use the terms love, need, life blood. So, some sort of strange desire overtook me. I would sit in the chair, chewing on ice chips, fantasizing about iced coffee. In a strange way, it became a sort of benchmark. Someday I would get to consume iced coffee again; one day my body wouldn’t fight food.

And like all good stories, there was a happy ending. I had Tigerlily then like that my body was fine. I wasn’t sick ever. I could eat anything. I could drink Vietnamese iced coffee.
Vietnamese Coffee Cheesecake Bars
Vietnamese Iced Coffee Bars

Based on a recipe by Smitten Kitchen
Line an 8 inch square baking pan with parchment paper.

In a food processor or in a Ziploc bag with a rolling pin crush:
graham crackers and wafer cookies to get about 1 cup

Combine cookies in a bowl with 3 tablespoons olive oil. Pack evenly at the bottom of the baking pan.

Bake at 350 for 10 minutes.

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, blend:
12 ozs softened cream cheese
3 eggs
2 T corn starch
1 can condensed milk
2 tsp cinnamon
3/8 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla

Brew some Vietnamese coffee very strong. (Vietnamese coffee can be bought at Asian grocery stores.)

Put 2 tsps of gelatin into ¼ cup coffee.

Once the coffee is gelled add to the mixer. Mix for 5 minutes.

Pour mixture over the crust. Bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees.

Chill 6 hrs.

When the cheesecake is chilling, make the glaze by heating a second can of condensed milk until simmer. Then add 1 tsp gelatin, and let sit for 2 minutes. Pour glaze over the cheesecake. Chill again for 2-3 hrs.

I am sending this over to Sugar High Fridays hosted by The Well-Seasoned Cook and created by Jennifer of The Domestic Goddess.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Chicken and Dumplings

Chicken with Dumplings
As a child, the last school bell signaled the heat of warm sunny days, the smell of cut grass, the chck-chck–chck of sprinklers. I relished the idea of uninterrupted weeks enjoying these hallmarks of summer, firmly ensconced in a comfortable library chair. Some of my fondest memories of childhood center around sitting in the library stacks, book in hand, legs up rebelliously crossed against the bookshelf. Rather than haunt the young adult section, I loved the cookbooks. The first Bush was in power, broccoli was out and processed foods were in. I am sure the librarians puzzled about what a scrawny fifth-grader was doing in the underused cookbook section, but I frankly enjoyed the quietude.

I read the recipes as novels. The books extolled great American life with discussions of such strange delicacies as ambrosia, hot chicken salad and aspic. This was an America that I had never really known. Looking back on it, my middle class neighborhood was full of outsiders. After long days of capture the flag, neighborhood boys against girls (girls rule), I might find myself eating Tamil rice, congee, collards, or chitterlings. Ours was not the America of one dish wonders.
Our housekeeper was the first person to explain the casserole to me. Mrs. D had survived the Great Depression by helping her mother run a boarding house. Then there was a career as a Chicago radio singer and a stint as a cook in the Coast Guard during World War II. All of this life experience resulted in a woman who could serve a home-cooked meal with very little else to recommend it than being in great quantity and on time.

Nonetheless, her meals had a strange cachet. They were a color that I had never associated with food—white, all white. There were endless variations of meals made of cream of celery soup. There was mayonaissy potato salad. There was milk toast. And, there was chicken and dumplings. I remember very vividly begging my mother to make the cauliflower curry once. I had carefully asked Mrs. D the ingredients, noting them in my mind and then later writing everything down in my lined notebook. The ingredients are still sitting there in my memory—1 bag frozen cauliflower, defrosted; 1 dash salt; 2 dashes curry powder (available in the spice aisle of any grocery store); 1 can cream of celery soup; serve with minute rice. My mother must have thought me insane when I asked her to make it for dinner. Here was a woman who grew up in the land of curry and had never one considered “curry powder .” She was also a woman who worked long days as a doctor and still managed to cook a meal with 2 vegetables, rice and chappati without the aid of a single can of soup. Nonetheless, as I was a light eater and she would go to great lengths to increase my calorie intake, my mother agreed to the casserole but drew the line at minute rice. The result was as I had hoped—bland, salty, and white. It was the kind of food that my school friends ate. It was normal.

While it is often said, it is nonetheless true that part of being an immigrant to the United States requires defining yourself in relation to the norm. Before the PCness of the mid-90s, there seemed to me enormous pressure to conform (rather than embrace your differences.) The one Indian restaurant was basically for immigrants and there was no ethnic aisle in the grocery store.


Once in school for a nutritional unit, we were supposed to write our weekly food intake to learn the healthfulness of our diet. When the assignment was passed out, I noticed things that we ate like dal, vali ambat, idli sambar were not listed on the calorie sheet. A good student (talk about a stereotype), I immediately asked my teacher how I should proceed. Maybe your mom should just make American food this week was her response. My mother is an admirable cook—truly exceptional. But, her forays into “American” food often leave a great deal to be desired. For example, there was one early incident of pepper steak, in which the avocado green serving container and the steak had a greener tone than the pepper.

So, it seemed to me, I might take matters into my own hands. I would make something from the calorie chart. What was more all American (and verging on the white side) than Chicken and Dumplings? I sat down with the recipe and considered the elements. There were new words—dredge, slurry, to brown. There were new concepts—saltandpepper to taste, the partnered set of spices that are essential to the American kitchen.

Sitting here, I still remember the feeling of making that dish: the nose-tickling smell of measuring out black pepper and the mental calculation of what “to taste” meant; the satisfying sound of sizzle of the chicken; the smell of the flour cooking. I also remember being stunned that the recipe omitted the keystone of my diet—potatoes. Even then, I knew recipes were suggestions. I rectified that omission on the spot by cutting up some Idahos into tiny, tiny cubes and tossing them in with the rest of the vegetables.

I don’t quite remember the reception of this dish. I can only guess that it wasn’t delish. Looking back, it was full of white flour and undercooked roux. But, this was my first dish. While I had always helped in the kitchen, chicken and dumplings was something I had found, planned, made and loved.
Soon after this incident, and the lackluster chicken and dumplings, I moved onto more exciting fare. Thanks to the now disgraced Frugal Gourmet, I made preserved lemons and chicken tagine. Within a couple years, American culture was becoming more focused on multiplicity. It was the time of the hyphenate. I was now Indian-American. But interestingly enough, I would make the chicken and dumplings again and again for years from memory. I still make it (with changes.) The whole recipe might have started as a measure of fitting in, as an element of my anthropological interest with the culinary work of middle America. But, it ended up being mine—my own cuisine, my own part of the American experience.

Thanks to Gluten Free Girl for the writing prompt about the first dishes we learned to make. Lets see if it cracks the blogger's block.

Chicken and Dumplings

Not too long ago I tried to recreate a family recipe. This one is unlike that one in many ways. I really prefer drop dumplings. But, this evening I had everything but the dumplings finished when I went to the Church fair with the girls. When I got home, my husband ended up making roll dumplings. Mine generally look like the less flattering picture at the end of the post.

Dredge chicken in flour that has been seasoned with salt, pepper, turmeric. I often use a combo of chickpea and wheat flour.

Then add 1 medium red onion in rings, potato and carrots. Brown well.

Add 2 T red miso paste, 2 heaping T homemade hummus, 1 dash tamari, dill and parsley.

Add cooked chickpeas and stock to cover and simmer. Just before serving add corn, green beans, lima beans, and a handful more onion (this will be a different texture than the browned ones.) Finally, drop in the dumplings. Put on the lid and then let it steam.

2 cups flour
2 t baking powder
2-3 T shredding cooked beets
2 heaping T minced parsley
2 heaping T minced dill
1 scant cup cup buttermilk

Drop into steaming stew.
beet dumpling

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Veggie Sopes


Sopes are chewy, crunchy, oily, salty. They are cheap street food. They are snacks. They are delicious.

The ideal sopes live in my memory. The first sope that I ate was standing outside of a miraculous little dive a few blocks away from my college dorm. My friend C and I had trekked there, because wandering for food seemed perfectly acceptable, even admirable.
I can’t see sopes on a menu without thinking of C. She has a laugh that rivals her thick mane in beauty. All these years later, I can still imagine feeling the Chicago crisp air mingling in my hair, the smell of horchata surrounding me, while I bit through the buttery avocado into the crisp shell of a sope.

Basically, the sope might be said to be likened to those 90’s polenta passed hors d’oeuvres—crunchy covering creamy corny centers. The thick corn product is like the beloved child of a tortilla and a tamale. But as compared to the boringness that I remember of grilled polenta, there is something wholly satisfying about sopes in all their street food real stuff.

In the midst of #meatfreeweek from the Cookbook Chronicles, we were feeling like we needed a little decadence. Instead of veggie tacos, we had veggie sopes. For the bases, we went with the plan from Michael Natkin (Herbivoracious) for Serious Eats. We made a slow cooker red beans with onions, cumin, green pepper, and tomato; topped that with grilled vegetables, and then with a vinegary cabbage slaw. Serve with rice.

And, these sopes were good. But, they failed me ever so slightly. The power of memory, the ability for joy to transmute your feeling for a certain foodstuff, means that my sopes, while filling and satisfying, could never match up those college ones. Those were the stuff of a life and time gone by, a fixed point, a past that now seems more literary fiction that actuality. It was a time when I saw C everyday. It was a time when we met over sopes to talk about nothing and everything.